Ice fishing is a popular activity here. That’s because it’s easy to do, doesn’t require expensive equipment (or a boat) and gives you the excuse to sit out on the ice in the glittering sunshine and basically just enjoy life. It’s good to eat the fish too of course – lake fish are delicious – but it’s mainly the activity that appeals. Or rather, the inactivity.
Watching someone ice fishing is a bit like watching a Samuel Beckett play. The cast of characters is limited to one, or at most two. The activity is limited to one arm occasionally lifting up and down. Otherwise, nothing much happens. Sometimes the character is sitting, sometimes standing, sometimes lying, but the activity (or inactivity) is the same. Out on the frozen lakes these characters are dotted around, some more visible than others, depending on the particular shade of the down jacket.
You can ice fish anywhere there’s a frozen lake of river, and there are plenty of those. You can walk to your spot, hand drill a hole, and get fishing. It’s the perfect get-away-from-it-all hobby. You need to buy a licence for a small fee, but after that, at this time of year, you can fish anywhere. Well almost anywhere. There’s a road near here that goes across the river on the ice. The sign there says, ‘Forbidden to drill holes in the road’.
Some ice fishers are lucky enough to have the use of an ‘ark’. That’s a small hut that can be dragged out onto the ice that you can sit inside and open up a hole in the floor to fish through. Some of these huts are very elaborate, with sleeping accommodation and curtains, and – rumour has it – TV. But most of them are just wind shelters, and a wind shelter is worth a lot out here.
Ice fishing is meditative and relaxing but the one thing that can make it a trial is the wind. Especially if you’re fiddling with fish hooks and maggots. So an ‘ark’ is a much sought-after temporary residence.
They aren’t so easy to get hold of. You have to find one being sold secondhand, or make your own. Then you have to have the right kind of trailer to drive it out to the lake. You also have to have a snow scooter, which you also have to take on your trailer to the lake. You then load your ‘ark’ onto some kind of sled behind your snowscooter, and pull it out onto the ice. So that’s quite an effort. If you’re very lucky you have a rented site by the lake to leave your ‘ark’ in over the other seasons, but these spaces are at a premium.
So it’s understandable that a lot of people who like ice fishing don’t have an ‘ark’. Which brings me back to Samuel Beckett. There’s an advertisement in the local paper this week for a ‘Wind Sack’ for the princely sum of 1,300 SEK (about £130). There’s a picture of a large, person-sized, bright yellow bag. Near the top of the bag are two horizontal slits, and through one of these slits the picture shows somebody’s head. You can go out on the ice, and – as the perfect adjunct to your (in)activity – you can sit inside a plastic bag. Now doesn’t that sound fun?